back ~ home ~ up ~ next




Eternal Recurrence


What's a blush?

A flicker of hellfire

felt; seen, like sunburn, but,

fortunately, outgrown

like adolescence.

Still, we're not done

with the flesh's mortifications.

Caught with a thumb

up a nostril, or a hand

down our pants,

we're all galled by ourselves.

There you are now, bent double,

bravely feigning indifference

to the lump in your pants—

or flushed, menopausal

in mid-sentence, while flirting . . .

To endure that ignominy

again and again.


No wormwood, no brimstone—

hell's a black-tie affair

to which you're invited

accidentally, and come

underdressed, undermannered,

nervous, laughing too loud

between gaffes,


and badly timed jokes.

There's a black fleck of spinach

wedged between your front teeth,

which you've only just noticed

in the bathroom upstairs,

looking up to glimpse, there,

in the half-drawn-back glass

of the medicine cabinet mirror,

your host's eyes watching you

lightly fingering his things.


Still, it's not over, yet—

it's eternal, remember?

as in that immeasurably

long instant between

the key rattling home in

the lock as you struggle,

handcuffed by shirt sleeves,

pants down past your knees,

and the half second later when

the door opens and

your mouth makes an O . . . .


Then the reel starts again.


Paul Lake



From Walking Backward, Story Line
Press, © 1999. 
Reprinted by permission
of the author and Story Line Press,
Ashland, Oregon.

Background by Jelane

back ~ home ~ up ~ next